Itís amazing watching him grow. Not that our children arenít magical. But they grow so much more slowly. Watching a puppy grow is like watching life itself unfold.
Bogie will make seven months next weekend, counting by weeks, not calendar months, if you get my meaning. He was born between Christmas and New Yearís Day, but I have been following his age by "weeks old" in order to calculate some things like weight, diet and training. It didnít occur to me that this would be out of kilter with what we typically consider age until I was marking my calendar ahead. I put the number of weeks old he is on every Saturday block on the calendar, and I was bored one afternoon so I finished out the year.
Bogie, 24-weeks old
Well, when Bogie turned one-year-old in late November, I furrowed my brow, put my pen to my lips studiously and said, "Whut?"
Naturally, there are 52 weeks in the year, and I counted his 48th week as a year, since of course 4 x 12 = 48. Eventually I figured out two things: a) It donít work that way, Einstein, and b) Itís a good thing Iím a writer and not an engineer. You wouldnít want to drive over a bridge I designed.
Bogie is now eating Canidae, an all-natural dry dog food with no artificial colors, preservatives or fillers. At six-and-a-half months, he weighs 43 pounds.
Watching him grow, from an eight-inch long ball of fur and wrinkled skin at seven weeks, to this lanky, long-legged packet of energy, has been awesome. Itís been a long, long time since I had a puppy, and Iíve never had a large-breed one before.
Heís lost most of his puppy fur, replaced by that more coarse, thick hair Labs are famous for, that water-repellent mat of adulthood. I swept up hair for nearly two months, massive balls of it, every day and I couldnít believe he wasnít completely bald. The shedding has slowed considerably, at last.
Itís amazing, when you think about the energies working in his little body. The cellular division, the incredible forces that grow him in leaps and bounds. The cognizance, too. At almost seven months, heís learning not to bolt when he sees other people nearby, or a cat. I said learning, heís not all there yet. Itís a lot to ask of a puppy, especially a Lab. Heís 100 percent on sit, 95 percent on stay, the five percent deficiency being a matter of duration, which weíre working on. Weíre working on walking at heelÖ90 percent good on that, on leash.
Sound asleep after a long day.
As far as hunting training, weíre learning marked falls. That means, when I throw his dummy out, in this very early stage, I have him sit and wait for it to land. Then, with my hand over his head where he can see it, I point him toward where the dummy landed. This may not make sense now, to you or him, but eventually heíll learn to follow my lead on a bird he didnít see the location of when it fell, and use his nose from there.
Itís fun watching the world unfold for him. Every new bug is a revelation. Every scent a nirvana. He can be barreling along at ninety-to-nothing, catch a scent, stop on a dime and go back to investigate. He still tries to catch birds, with no success, of course. Thatís good. Heís interested in them, and only has to learn to hold back and flush them when I say, mark the fall on shot, and retrieve it.
He knows that, when he gets fed, if I pour food without saying anything, he can leap into it at once. If I say simply, "Sit," even without adding "stay," heíll watch patiently until I say "Go," and then he leaps like a spring to the bowl. Every other time he responds to "come" positively, he gets one of the treats I carry around in my pockets when weíre romping, and heís figured out that this hit-and-miss procedure is worth coming to find out of he won the prize, each and every time.
But he knows more than those things. The puppy is quickly turning into the dog. Not so far removed from his ancestral wolf lineage as we think. Most of the breeds we know today were developed from a handful of domesticated dogs in the last 150 years. He knows what plants are edible, and which to leave alone, somehow. Or at least the ones that arenít tasty. I see him chewing grass or other plants and notice he specifically leaves certain species completely untouched.
He knows how to swim, and is venturing father and farther from shore every trip. Not so far as to be worrisome, but the water dog in him is certainly apparent. That otter-like tail swishes as he goes, and his webbed feet propel him nicely. He tries to bring back to shore anything that might be floating out there, from a twig to a 12-foot long two-by-four. He actually made it back with the two-by-four, but was pretty tuckered out after that.
The puppy will devour some things. Daisy, his matriarch predecessor, during her puppyhood ate a length of galvanized water pipe and a boat trailer hitch. Kid you not. Bogie is not quite as ambitious, his chew repertoire includes limestone, clamshell and oak limbs. He does not, however, touch the green tomatoes the stupid squirrels steal from our bushes and carry out in the yard to half-eat. He carries them back to me, but doesnít eat them, perhaps sensing their slightly toxic nature.
He knows his daddy (that would be me) will come in the house after work, go change clothes, grab a Diet Coke and a little cigar before coming to let him out of the kennel. He doesnít fuss or whine, just waits patiently. He has amazing patience for a pup. Heís not sappy-dog affectionate, heís independent but not stand-offish, and lets us know when he thinks we need it that weíre his best buds and his world simply revolves around us.
The puppy knows there are things on the breeze that are farther away than he can see, but that makes them no less real. As they swirl through his long snout and his eyes half-close while he studies them with instinct and perceptions we human beings lost long, long ago, he "sees" what is beyond range of his eyes.
At night, when Iím yawning and ready for some down-time, I lead him to his kennel in my piddling room. He knows to sit, because he gets one treat that way, then another is thrown in the kennel as reward for entering. He takes a little time to get comfortable but before long is snoozing peacefully, sometimes on his side, sometimes on his stomach, now and then on his back. In the middle of the night, sometimes, I hear him yipping. I went to check a couple times, because in the past the only time he ever made a sound that late was if he needed to go, bad. But there he was, sound asleep, and now and then, a Yip! would escape his lips and his little legs twitched. Perhaps he was, in his dreams, chasing those dang squirrels and circling the base of the tree they escaped into. Whoís to know? We canít really be sure what the dog knows, but we shouldnít underestimate him. His instincts are more closely entwined with the natural world he lives in than our own. He is, after all, not that far removed from the wolf, though we might think him cuddly and cute and obedient, because thatís how weíve molded his lineage.
But what the puppy knows is far greater than what we can ever hope to perceive. He depends on us solely to function in our world, and to guide him in what he can do to please us. Which, in the end, the dog knows is what he most wants to do anyway.
I watch him grow, by leaps and bounds, over the scant five months heís been with me. And a haunted, mourning part of me knows that great acceleration of his growth also accounts for the brevity of his life. That fraction of an existence compared to my own; with all the joy tags along at my heel the vigil as he grows older, slower, grayer, and one day, the last burst of energy will leave him, far too soon. Among my greatest wishes are to make those moments as fulfilling and joyful for him as I can before they run out.
"A man is given one good dog in his life," a friend told me the other day, and I donít know if thatís true or not, but if there is indeed a "best" among many, it surely is Bogie.
Thatís what the puppy and the dog knows. What the Man knows is he is no "master" despite the arrogance of his species, and he should be honored, humbled even, to be the recipient of such loyalty and love.